How the University of Houston Made One Move to Boost Campus Safety and Gain Cost Savings
April 27, 2021
By Blue Print Editorial Team
By Blue Print Editorial Team
The E. Cullen Building on the University of Houston Campus.
CHANGE COMES TO CAMPUS
Rufus Kemp and Jeff Benjamin are on a digital call talking about paper towel dispensers. Again. If you know them, this isn’t an odd topic of conversation. Both men work for the University of Houston, and during the height of the pandemic, they needed to find a way to switch every dispenser on campus to a safer, touchless model. This is going to be a huge project. But where to begin?
Before the pandemic, a normal day for the university would see 48,000 students and 6,000 researchers, faculty, and staff on the campus. Even as COVID was ramping up across the U.S., a lot of people were still coming to campus. As a Tier One Carnegie Research University, the campus wasn’t going to shut down experiments; the work needed to continue. Kemp and Benjamin both knew this. So, their priority became finding ways to boost public safety while maintaining some normalcy.
“A number of our facilities still had turn-style faucets and manually operated paper towel dispensers,” said Benjamin, the Assistant Vice President of Facilities Services. “It was very apparent that this would be a quick hit in order to really reduce exposure points."
Located in the third-largest metro in America, the University of Houston has a lot of people coming through the campus. Many buildings were built before touchless technology was commonplace.
TURNING TO A TRUSTED SOURCE
With well over 1,000 restrooms on campus, the pair began to look at exactly how many touch-free devices they would need, what the cost might be, and how long the project would take. Benjamin oversees the facilities services, and Kemp is the manager of programs operations. Neither man knew of a supplier who would be able to secure the devices within the desired timeline. But when Kemp mentioned the project to his on-site Fastenal team, he was surprised by the reaction.
“We were so pleased they said they could help us,” said Kemp. “Fastenal already manages the supply chain for around 95% of the purchases that we make. It’s an embedded service that we are fortunate to have available. They have an onsite shop location with over 3,500 parts of inventory in two warehouse spaces, and they staff the whole thing.”
The partnership between the university and Fastenal started in 2014. Now, Justin Camp leads Fastenal’s Onsite team, and he is proud of the fact that if the university needs something, he finds a way to make it happen.
“We shorten their supply chain, we take on the responsibility, and we take it off their plates,” said Camp. “We buy from vendors that a normal Fastenal team doesn’t. One example is we buy from landscaping companies. So, basically, we’ve taken the whole side of procurement for the facilities department off the plate of the university.”
THE FASTENAL ONSITE
With campus staff working 24/7, the University of Houston relies on Fastenal to help manage the campus’ supply chain. In total, Fastenal has six full-time and one part-time employee working at the university.
Led by Justin Camp, they work out of two locations where the campus had available space. University staff access needed items via racks, bins, and vending machines that are maintained by the Fastenal Onsite team. Part of that work is regularly checking the min/max levels and replenishing supplies as needed. This frees up the university’s staff to focus on their work rather than worry about ordering or stocking parts.
Camp also leads quarterly business reviews with the university to ensure everything is running smoothly and to help with other projects similar to the restrooms going touchless.
"There may be some very obscure things that we might not be able to get through Fastenal, but I think we would be hard-pressed to find out what those are," said Jeff Benjamin.
PUTTING IN THE WORK
To save money, Benjamin worked with Fastenal to have the plumbers and technicians on his team handle the installations. He looks back on the “very methodical approach” with a chuckle before describing how they went building by building, floor by floor, restroom by restroom, through the entire campus.
“Our plumbing team did an amazing job on this project and knocked it out of the park,” said Benjamin. “Being in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and installing equipment to increase safety while also increasing savings is a win-win situation. We estimate the possible savings as 20 to 35% on paper products.”
Kemp and Benjamin still talk about paper towel dispensers. But now the topic has shifted from “huge project” to “huge win.” Benjamin admits it’s too early to know the full outcome, but he expects their water consumption will go down thanks to the metered faucets. He pauses before adding that, thanks to the cost savings, the university will be able to reallocate resources to other priorities because they aren’t spending that money on paper towels as much anymore.
“By partnering with Fastenal, they brought to the table a less expensive alternative to what we already had,” said Benjamin. “This option not only reduced capital expenses but also will help our maintenance and operation expenses moving forward. To me, this was a really big win for the university in terms of maintaining future operations.
The new faucets and paper towel dispensers fit the existing spaces.
LOOKING FOR SOLUTIONS
For Kemp, the search for new paper towel dispensers started before the pandemic even hit. He was dissatisfied with the service being provided by the existing supplier. That company wanted the university to switch away from a brand before it was scheduled to be discontinued.
However, the product they suggested as a replacement concerned Kemp. He felt it would be a step backward in quality and it came with a cost hike. To avoid a dramatic increase in cost for the university, Kemp turned to Fastenal.
“I engaged Justin, our on-site GM, and asked him to leverage the Fastenal network to find another paper towel and to look at the possibility of going touchless,” Kemp said. “I told him that I needed two options to present to the facilities leadership. He came back with two solutions: the touchless paperless and touchless paper.
“We were in the process of selecting a solution when the pandemic hit, and it accelerated the timeline to move the project along. My recommendation was to use the Fastenal private label touchless paper because of the significant cost savings, a rebate, and the supplier being a HUB vendor.”
MAKING A RUN
Before reaching the Final Four, as the University of Houston played deeper and deeper into the 2021 NCAA Tournament, Kemp kept coming back to one thought.
“The university’s athletics department received a lot of sanitizing supplies through this partnership, and they were appreciative of facilities’ support,” said Kemp.
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ABOUT THE PARTNERSHIP
Jeff Benjamin | Assistant Vice President of Facilities Services
“Fastenal brings a lot to the table for us. One, it’s a worldwide company with massive purchasing power; they have the ability to get the things we need. I think the second thing that they bring to the table for us, that’s probably equally as important, is the data that we can pull from their system. They can tell us what we’re buying, how often we’re buying it, who’s using it.”
Rufus Kemp | MRO SCS (Maintenance Repair Operations Supply Chain Services) Programs Operations Manager
“The university wanted to go touch-free for everything in these bathrooms. So, with the faucets, we actually changed out hundreds to go touch-free and Fastenal provided them. Not only did it save us money, but it provides that new level of safety. And yeah, the cost savings is tremendous. I mean, it’s tremendous. It was one of those decisions that was like, ‘Why didn’t we do it five years ago?’”
Justin Camp | Warehouse Operations Manager, Sellen Construction
“The university is basically a small city. They have their own power plants and things; so, we service them as well. And we work in our standard channels, especially on stuff that is in our warehouse, to lower their costs. But also, if there are certain things that the Onsite Fastenal just doesn’t have, we purchase that for them, too, so that they don’t have a headache.”
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